SALT LAKE CITY — Under orders from Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Salt Lake City’s longtime representative on the Utah Transit Authority’s board of trustees has resigned.
Keith Bartholomew — an associate professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah who served 13 years on the UTA board as an appointee under the tenures of former Mayors Rocky Anderson and Ralph Becker — submitted his resignation during the board’s meeting Wednesday.
The reasons why Biskupski called for Bartholomew’s immediate resignation, however, vary depending on who you ask.
Bartholomew says the mayor obviously wasn’t impressed with his representation of Salt Lake City.
“She said I have done absolutely nothing for Salt Lake City in the whole time I’ve been on the UTA board,” Bartholomew said in an interview Thursday — a concept he contests.
“This is my lifeblood,” Bartholomew said. “I live, eat and breathe planning and transportation and transit. … Being able to offer that in a policy setting is very meaningful to me. I think I have something of value, given my experience, but I guess that didn’t sit well with the mayor.”
Biskupski was not available for comment Thursday, but her spokesman, Matthew Rojas, said the “primary” reason the mayor called for Bartholomew’s resignation was because she had concerns about the length of his term and the circumstances under which he was last appointed.
Under state law, UTA trustee terms run for four years, then they’re up for reappointment or replacement by their appointing agencies. In Bartholomew’s case, he was last appointed by former Mayor Ralph Becker in 2015.
But Rojas said the mayor became concerned when her staff wasn’t able to find any records within City Council minutes affirming Bartholomew’s last appointment.
“We couldn’t find any documentation that he went through the advice and consent process in 2015,” Rojas said. “In all honesty, the reason why this happened is because it was brought to our attention that he has been serving on the board longer than he should have been serving. That was the primary reason why he was asked to resign.”
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Rojas said he “didn’t know why” Bartholomew would say Biskupski disliked his performance.
While Bartholomew said there may have been a technical “lapse” because of the apparent lack of City Council consent in 2015, he did receive signed approval from Becker to continue serving on the UTA board. Otherwise, he legally wouldn’t have been able to continue his term.
Either way, Bartholomew said Biskupski’s staff began investigating his appointment after he and the mayor talked last week — a conversation from which Bartholomew gathered Biskupski wasn’t fond of his performance on the board.
Bartholomew points out that over the last 13 years, UTA’s services have been concentrated in population-dense areas including downtown Salt Lake City, as well as South Salt Lake, Midvale and Murray.
However, Bartholomew added that his job wasn’t to act solely on behalf of Salt Lake City’s interests — but also as a trustee member devoted to the overall success of UTA.
“I wasn’t there to bring home the bacon for Salt Lake City,” Bartholomew said. “It was my job to be a responsible board member, looking out for the health and well-being of the entire agency.”
That’s a goal Bartholomew believes he accomplished alongside other UTA trustees, while also representing the city that appointed him.
In his resignation letter, Bartholomew pointed out that over the past 13 years, UTA expanded from two rail lines to six, with more than 6,300 bus stops. He said over the past 13 years, UTA’s ridership has grown by 32 percent.
“The rail and bus expansions … make it possible for tens of thousands of people to get to and from where they live, work, educate and play,” he wrote in his letter. “That improvement in access to opportunities has improved the lives of countless citizens in Salt Lake City and around our region.”
But Bartholomew’s resignation comes amid a troubled time for UTA.
The agency reached a nonprosecution agreement with federal prosecutors earlier this month in exchange for UTA’s cooperation in a criminal probe into former UTA board members and possible misuse of taxpayer funds and development around train stations.
Bartholomew said during his conversations with Biskupski, she had expressed concern about UTA’s “erosion of public trust.”
“I share those concerns,” said Bartholomew, who’s served on the board throughout UTA’s most controversial times.
“When people within the agency abused and violated the rules, they were caught, and consequences were forthcoming,” he said. “Granted, we all wish we could have caught them sooner. We wish they didn’t happen in the first place.”
He pointed out UTA now has policies in place to increase its transparency and provide “more checks to ensure integrity.”
When asked if concerns about UTA’s past had anything to do with calling for Bartholomew’s resignation, Rojas again said the “primary” reason was concern over the trustee’s term.
Bartholomew said he was disappointed by Biskupski’s call for his resignation but understands it’s in the mayor’s purview to choose an appointee.
“It’s the mayor’s choice,” he said. “It’s her prerogative. And that’s fine.”
Rojas said Salt Lake City doesn’t yet have a replacement lined up but will begin the process to seek a new appointee.